After reading Kaitlin Schmidtke’s opinion piece on energy and climate change in the May 15 Caller-TimesI feel compelled answer her questions and to reply to her queries. While she is a lobbyist in Washington D.C, I’m writing this as a citizen who’s concerned about the direction we’re headed in, and the inaction by industry and elected officials to realistically address the biggest threat humans have faced in modern times.
I grew-up in the oil field. My father started his career as an engineer in 1947. Later, he led the drill bit manufacturing department of a global company. My early career saw me working as a draftsman for companies that made drill-pipe fittings, production equipment, and solids control equipment. I worked as a service worker from Mobile, Alabama to Riviera Texas. Nobody was talking about rising global temperatures and the ripple effects they might have back then.
Forty years later, we’re facing global warming, or what’s more accurately referred to as a climate crisis. The U.S. has seen wildfires and floods, sea-level rise, drought, and the big Texas freeze in 2021. Hurricanes like Harvey also hit the country, causing 52 inches of rain to fall on Houston.
Other parts of the globe are experiencing melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, and climate refugees are fleeing their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. This is not the norm. And it’s exactly what the IPCC scientists predicted will happen due to climate change, except it’s happening much faster than they first expected.
Getting to Ms. Schmidtke’s questions:
“Why do elected leaders echo the certain anti-energy activists who favor eliminating traditional fuels?”
First “anti-energy activists” is an inaccurate term meant to fire people up. No one is saying that we should stop using energy. Instead, we need to be smarter about how we use energy and start transitioning over to forms that don’t put so much carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Researchers are discovering other ways to produce and store energy.
“Why don’t they ever cite America’s world-leading success in reducing emissions while producing energy at record levels?”
It’s true that emissions have been reduced in some business sectors, but overall, emissions of greenhouse gases have been on an increasing trend since the Industrial Revolution began. The pandemic caused a slight dip in 2020, but it was short-lived.
If the petroleum industry wishes to reduce its emissions, it must stop methane leaking from well sites and all stops along pipelines that transport crude oil and natural gas to markets. Infrared cameras, such as those used at TCEQ, show methane escaping tank vents and pressure relief valves. The industry can stop leakage into the atmosphere by installing gas-capturing devices or performing better maintenance.
Basically, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to increase production and emission while running ads in magazines or on TV that promote green ventures that only a small portion of their overall investments. That’s greenwashing.
“Likewise, why do they ignore technological innovations like carbon capture and storage that will get us to net zero faster that anyone imagined?”
Pilot projects like the one at a power plant near Houston have shown that carbon capture and sequestration can be done, but it’s not a silver bullet. It’s not easy to scale it up to capture the same amount as carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The same applies to blue hydrogen, which is both water- and carbon-intensive.
“In 2022, why should we accept policy proposals that create more price volatility and less dependable, affordable and even more environmentally harmful energy?”
American companies including Shell and ExxonMobil joined an initiative to establish a national carbon cap and trade program since it would set a stable price signal for energy and a clear path forward when they’re planning large capital projects. Moreover, when it comes to affordability and dependability, solar energy now costs the same in Texas as electricity generated from natural gas, and our state’s grid failure in February 2021 was caused by outages at power plants and natural gas gathering facilities, not wind and solar ones.
The energy sector isn’t the only place where changes are needed. We need to make significant changes in transportation and agriculture, timber harvesting, architecture, and many other areas. We don’t have all the answers yet, but that doesn’t mean we should keep doing everything as if things are normal. We’re beyond that and we have just 10 years to act. The longer we continue to delay the inevitable, the more severe the damage caused by natural disasters and the cost of solutions.
We have a lot of technology that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the worst effects. Project Drawdown (drawdown.org).A team of scientists, policymakers, scholars, and other experts created this list to help find the best methods to achieve net zero carbon. Their explanations of the solutions give reason to believe that we can prevail if you act now. If we don’t do it for ourselves or for the planet, we should do it for our children and grandchildren.
Neil McQueen is co-chair of the Texas Coastal Bend Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.